When Carolina Panthers' owner Jerry Richardson said last week that the organization planned to be 'aggressive' in free agency, it was a given that a segment of the fan base would assume this was tantamount to a Washington Redskins-esque grab for the top free agents. In this case I'm not speaking specifically to the CSR community, but rather fans as a whole. On Saturday night I had the opportunity to speak with a group of fans, some of whom were PSL holders- but not necessarily as avid and involved in the day to day as this community. They asked me if Richardson's words meant the Panthers would go after players like Nnamdi Asomugha and Sidney Rice, I said while it was possible I believed it was highly unlikely the team would make such moves.
Tonight Jerry Richardson wrote an open letter to the fans of the Carolina Panthers to discuss not only the 2010 season, but the future of the organization. I'll leave it up to you to read the entire letter found here, but I will focus on some key statements in the letter...
After the jumpJR opens the letter acknowledging that this hasn't been an easy 12 months for NFL fans in the Carolinas:
The last 12 months have been very difficult for Panthers fans. The 2010 season was not what anyone expected or desired, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement tested the patience of all involved. We did not live up to your expectations, or mine, and your frustration is understandable.
What hits home about this statement more than anything is the need to still hear this statement. It shows just how deep the 2-14 year effected the fan base for Richardson to need to speak multiple times about how the 2010 Panthers didn't live up to expectations.
Here's where we get to the meat and potatoes of the letter:
As we saw last year with Green Bay and Pittsburgh, market size does not determine where the Lombardi Trophy lands. Our mission is to bring it to the Carolinas.
You have my assurance we will make the necessary investments and aggressively pursue every avenue to make that dream come true.
I have learned timetables can be tricky, but I can promise we will continue to make a total commitment to building the championship team you deserve.
My omission here is where Richardson speaks about the Panthers' talent, while discussing Ron Rivera and the new coaching staff. I feel that in these statements JR is telling us two things:
1) I am committed to bring you, the fans, a winning football team
2) Please don't become dismayed if we don't spent all our money year one, or let quality free agents fall by the wayside.
While #2 may not be the kind of methodology that inspires the fans each and every week it is the right move. When it's all said and done this is still one of the youngest teams in the NFL with a head coach who hasn't had any opportunity to evaluate the current talent. It will be far more prudent for the Carolina Panthers to let Ron Rivera and company try and squeeze as much blood from the stones as possible, and wait until 2012 to patch the holes with serious free agents. For this to happen though, 2011 will need to be a litmus test for this new staff to discover where those holes are for their brand of football.
I don't like to overuse the term 'fairweather' fans, so perhaps I'll turn a new phrase those fans of a 'weak constitution. By this I mean those fans who have become so jaded by the recent lack of success that they are willing to write off every move the team makes as 'stupid' unless it contributes to the immediate success of the team. For these fans it's likely going to be a very hard 2011 season. JR wants to have a winning team in Carolina, but this has to happen the way he believes is right. This will include building through the draft, growing the current talent and sadly, this wont happen overnight. Unless we revert back to pre-draft 'SMOKESCREEN!' claims, I feel we're likely in for a productive, but not dramatic offseason; at least until this new staff can get a good look at the team.